Thomas and I had a long talk over the weekend. It was a difficult conversation, the kind for which you are never prepared because you hope you never have to have it. We talked about his death.
From all appearances, it seems as if Thomas’ life is coming to an end. The talk with him about his death was like other conversations before significant events and transitions, whether he has understood or not. Thomas, as some readers know already, is my 14-year-old cat. His exact age is a mystery because he showed up in 1998 as a fully mature stray.
He sleeps a lot more than usual and grows bonier by the day. His eyes have lost their clarity and some of his senses have grown dull. He’s uninterested in grooming himself, but is willing for me to help out with a brush and warm, damp cloth. He is increasingly unsteady on his feet and unable to consistently jump to the one place where he spends most of his time, on a corner of the bed. He seeks comfort by crawling into my arms as if he were a baby, often laying his head on my shoulder to nap.
Each morning I feel relief to see his side move smoothly in sync with his breathing. Each evening I feel grateful for another day with a beloved pet.
Although I love Thomas dearly, he’s a cat and I treat him as one, mostly. While he may not know exactly what I’ve been saying to him for the past few days, we communicate in an important way that transcends words as anyone with a pet knows so well.
After our talk about death the other day, I’ve been telling Thomas stories about his life. The ongoing narrative began with his early days as a scraper in the urban wilderness along the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, California. He showed up looking scraggly and worn out, the obvious participant in a high-stakes fight or two. He went from being a tom cat to Thomas, named for one of the key figures of English Church history: Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and primary writer of the Book of Common Prayer. As far as names go, it was unfortunate Thomas arrived when I was studying the Reformation. He might have been called Erasmus or Abelard if he arrived a week or so earlier and that would have been even more unfortunate. Thomas, and his early nickname “The Archbishop,” were ultimately good choices because he is proud, dignified and regal.
The day after his arrival he was taken to the vet who gave us bad news. All that fighting had more than likely infected Thomas with feline immunovirus (FIV), sort of like kitty AIDS. The vet gave him a life sentence of one to five years. Thankfully, the vet was wrong in his assessment.
During our recent chats, I reminisce with Thomas about his many adventures, like the time he got out of his carrier at Dallas-Fort Worth airport, jumped the baggage scale and wound up attending a meeting of surprised American Airlines employees. I’ve praised him for his protectiveness, whether it’s been expressed by peeing on the leg of a date he didn’t like or curling up next to me when I’ve been felled by asthma. He’s thanked for his affection and cuddly companionship. Thomas is appreciated for accepting some major adjustments with good nature, like when he spent about six months with a boyfriend who had a menagerie of two large (and hated) dogs and three cats when I deployed to New Orleans. He is a good traveler, and has probably been in more states than some people. He even tolerated the addition of a punk kitten four years ago.
The review of Thomas’ life is a review of my own. Sharing these stories with him helps me with the process of accepting that his life is coming to an end and that mine has changed significantly several times during our life together. Until he’s ready to go, we’ll continue our love fest. There are many more stories to remember with him as we make the most of each day that remains.